Where I Stand
Rev. Kurt Lantz Easter 3 B 1 John 3:1-7
April 18, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I wonder how he was able to do it. 500 hundred years ago, on this day, Martin Luther stood before the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and a retinue of papal lawyers at the now famous Diet held in Worms within the German states. His books and writings that had already been condemned lay on a table before him and he was asked two questions: Are these writings yours; and Do you recant what you have written? (Do you take back what you have written in these books?)
There was really only one likely outcome. Luther would not be able to take back what he had written and proclaimed, and live the rest of his life in some quiet, impotent vocation. I might be able to do that, but not him. And it was well known to everyone that those who came before Luther, including John Huss to whom Luther and his teachings had been compared over and over again, had been condemned and burned at the stake when they didn’t recant. Luther couldn’t have expected anything else would come from a refusal. How was he able to say those now well-known words, “Here I stand”?
We often find it next to impossible to take a stand for the truth. We convince ourselves that it is better to back down, to make sure that we will be able to take care of our family, to live to fight another day, to not stir the pot or fan the flames, as was the expectation of Luther.
He stood before emperor and lawyers and theologians and princes. We find it hard to stand before family, to stand up to friends, to stand against those who know absolutely nothing of the infallible, firm, and steadfast truth in the Word of God. We find it hard to stand when they deny the truths of our faith: the resurrection of our Lord Jesus; the forgiveness of sins that He merited for us; what is sin and lawlessness in the world and in their lives. “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him” (1 John 3:1).
We find it hard to do what Luther did and what Peter and John did when the crowd gathered around to see who had healed the lame man. “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release Him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses” (Acts 3:13-15).
But most of all we find it hard to stand against our own sin. And that, too, is why we find it hard to stand against the unbelieving world that is hostile to the Gospel of forgiveness in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When we cannot manage to stand against our own sin, we have no ground to stand on before those who would deceive us to believe that saving faith in Christ Jesus and a life of sin can go together. For that is what our life appears to be.
We appear to be sinners who believe that Jesus died for our sins and was raised again for our justification, to make us right before God. Peter’s words apply to us. Every time we sin we deny Jesus in the presence of those around us. We choose rather to follow the moral directives of a society that murders babies by abortion, selecting to terminate a pregnancy for such banal reasons like because the baby is a girl; a society that offers and assists people suffering with mental illness to kill themselves or to have a doctor do it for them.
John reminds us that “sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4), and we live in a society that wants to remove the law from all areas of morality in a great act of deception, to convince us that we can still be God’s children while we practice and approve of all manner of evil. How can we take a stand to proclaim “repentance and the forgiveness of sins... in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47), beginning with ourselves?
“Martin, answer clearly and without any double-talk: Do you or do you not recant your books and the errors in them?” Luther responded: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason... I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand. May God help me. Amen” (Luther’s Works. Vol 32. 112-113).
Here I stand. We practised saying that at Vacation Bible School a few years ago. Here I stand. Where? Not on my own two feet; not on my own righteousness; but on the Word of God. That is the only sure place to stand, although it is a scary place to stand because that Word of God condemns our sins. And it condemns us when we stand in our sins instead of on the Word of God. But the Word of God does more than condemn us. It also pardons us, proclaiming that we are forgiven through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Peter told the crowd that they had denied and killed Jesus, but he also proclaimed: “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that He may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus” (Acts 3:19-20). Peter did what Jesus Himself told the disciples to do “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” John, in his own unique way tells us the outcome of taking this Word of God to heart: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). God has made us His holy children, forgiven and righteous through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins.
Children of God, that is what you are. That is something that you can stand on. You are forgiven and righteous children of God. That is where Martin Luther stood at the Diet of Worms. He stood on the Word of God that proclaimed him to be a dear child of the heavenly Father, forgiven and righteous, to stand on the Word of the Father before princes and emperors and papal lawyers and theologians. Luther stood on the Good News of his sins being forgiven.
Most of society remembers Luther’s “Here I stand” confession as an act of defiant rebellion against tyranny. Therefore they see Luther as having strength in himself, and so they seek to bolster themselves to act on the strength that they have within themselves. Or, they see Luther as one who had enough political savvy to know that he could rally the populace behind him, and so they are inspired to political wrangling in order to stand up against opponents.
But if you delve deeper than that into Luther’s response, and not just his polemical writings, but his sermons and letters to individuals who were the victims of the tyranny of withholding the Gospel of forgiveness for Christ’s sake, you find that Luther stood not on his own strength or even the strength of the people of the German states. He stood on the firm foundation of the Word of God proclaiming him righteous for Jesus’ sake.
Luther’s complete reply to the questions “Are these your writings and do you recant what you have written?” reveals how standing upon the Word of God plays out for us in our stand against a world opposed to Christ, and our stand against our own sins.
Luther pointed out that not all of his writings were of the same kind. In some of them he dealt with practical Christian morality in a simple and evangelical way for the sake of the common people, clearly defining sin according to God’s Law and proclaiming the forgiveness of sins through the Gospel. Even his enemies would admit that these are useful, harmless to the church, and clearly worthy to be read by Christians. To take back what he had written here would cause people to doubt the Word of God on which their faith was firmly grounded, and deny the points of truth to which they all agreed. Luther took a stand on God’s Word, not to defend his own reputation, but for the sake of people knowing that Jesus had died to save them from their sins.
Other parts of his writings were directed against the office of the pope and its representatives who in both teaching and the example of their wicked lives were destroying the Christian faith. Particularly in the Canon Law which made decrees not founded on God’s Word, the consciences of the faithful were tortured to believe that they had sinned where they had not, and that they were required to purchase forgiveness rather than rely on the free Gospel of grace. If Luther should have retracted these writings, he would have given strength to the tyranny of wicked church officials and invited their godless living and spiritual torture of the people to increase. Luther took a stand on God’s Word, not to prove himself more righteous than others, but to set free those who were troubled over their relationship to God.
A third sort of writing of Luther was directed against private individuals who defended the tyranny of church officials and their godless living. Here Luther confessed his own sin and admitted that he had often written against them more violently than he ought to as a professor and priest and Christian. He admitted that he was no saint, yet he could not let his own sins either silence the Word of God or allow the sins of others to continue to rage among the people all the more. By standing on the Word of God against his own sins, Luther was able to stand firm also against the sins of others and call them to repentance.
Where do we stand against the godlessness of the world and its tyranny that would silence us from proclaiming repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all nations? We stand with Luther on the Word of God. “I am bound by the Scriptures... and my conscience is captive to the Word of God... I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me. Amen” (Luther’s Works. Vol. 32:112-113).
Standing on the Word of God means standing on His decree that you are His child and that you are forgiven of your sins freely through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Son. “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are... Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3). Here I stand on the Gospel promise of God to me. Here I stand against the world, and especially against my own sin.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.